The term "contemporary art" is supposed to have a specific — if changing — meaning. Originally, I first heard of it as a term for defining the seriously ambitious and new art of the post-World War II era, thus differentiating itself from the modern-art era, with its various movements, that preceded it in the earlier part of the 20th century. And by "new," one meant new in ideas, in material, in aesthetics and subject matter (or lack of). Some 60 years on, contemporary art increasingly means art of more recent times, or of artists alive today, or even art of the 21st century. That's legitimate change — evolution. But meanwhile, like such words as "loft" and "jazz," the term also has been co-opted as a cool-word marketing tool. Too often, people call any recent art "contemporary," as if it refers to the date a piece was created rather than the inspiration behind it.
To try to make sense of this, and to give those interested in art the tools to understand that contemporary art is more than just a commercial catchphrase, the Art Academy of Cincinnati has organized an ongoing series, "Making Sense of Contemporary Art," that is free and open to the public. This Sunday (Nov. 23) at 2 p.m., Matt Morris (an art critic for CityBeat) and Jean Feinberg (a critic and former curator) will be discussing the subject at the Academy, 1212 Jackson St. in Over-the-Rhine. Each will speak for roughly a half hour, with room for Q&A and then a reception.